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Mississippi Pardons Upheld, Interview with Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California; Interview with Deepak Chopra & Gotham Chopra; U.S. Economy Added 227,000 in February, 2012; Unemployment Rate Stays at 8.3 percent; 227,000 Jobs Added to U.S. Economy in February

Aired March 9, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is a focus on the big monthly jobs report that is coming out in roughly 30 minutes. It's already affecting oil prices and 401(k). But will the numbers bite or will they boost President Obama? We're going to talk to his former chief economist, Austan Goolsbee, straight ahead.

More people are hooked on legal painkillers than on heroin and cocaine combined. That epidemic goes way beyond the medicine cabinet, go right to the black market.

This morning, we're going to talk to Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack to talk about some of the hearings that she's been having in Congress about that. Listen.


GOTHAM CHOPRA, DEEPAK CHOPRA'S SON: My whole life people have asked me what it's like to be the son of the spiritual guy, Deepak Chopra. There's a simple answer: strange.


O'BRIEN: Simple answer, strange. We're going to talk this morning to that father and son team, Gotham Chopra and Deepak Chopra. Gotham doing a documentary about his dad. And it's debuting here at South by Southwest this weekend. We'll see how hard it was to do a revealing story about your own father.

And what was the biggest show, most influential TV show of all time? Was it the "Simpson's." Anybody want to guess at the table here?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Tried "Three's Company." It didn't work.

O'BRIEN: It was "Three's Company." It was not "Sesame Street." You might remember the theme song though.

VELSHI: "Hill Street Blues"?

O'BRIEN: Ding, ding, ding.

STARTING POINT begins right now for March 9th, 2012.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

This is the CNN grill playlist. It's the music we like to play here. It's called electric head -- what is it, electric -- I keep missing it.

VELSHI: With head.

O'BRIEN: Yes, head I hold is what they sing.

We're at the CNN grill for the South by Southwest Conference that's in Austin, Texas.

Our panelists this morning, Ali Velshi is sticking around for us for the full two hours. He's CNN chief business correspondent.

Farai Chideya is a fellow at the IOP, the Institute of Politics, at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Mimi Swartz is the executive editor of "Texas Monthly."

It's nice to have you all.

One of the things that will be premiered here at South by Southwest is Deepak and Gotham Chopra. They're doing a documentary. It's going to be shown this weekend. We're going to talk to them straight ahead this morning, not only about what the documentary is about, but how hard it is to do a really a thoughtful, thorough job when the subject is your own father?

First, though, we got to look at some of the other headlines making the news. Carlos Diaz has those. He's in Atlanta for us this morning.

Hey, Carlos. Good morning again.


And this morning, it's all about jobs, jobs, more jobs in a good way. You have the big jobs report due out in about 1/2 hour. The Labor Department is expected to announce that the economy added about 210,000 jobs last month. That's a good thing.

And President Obama, he's going to run with that, talking up the economy at a speech at a Rolls Royce manufacturing factory in Prince George County, Virginia.

President Obama is urging Israel to go slow on Iran, though. He says diplomacy should be the first option to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. The president's words have drawn praise from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said his efforts to tamp down the war talk were wise.

One of the television interviews in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says he hopes there won't be a war and that diplomatic pressures on Iran work.

It's not clear if Israeli's prime minister is listening, though. Benjamin Netanyahu is laying out a time frame for an attack on Iran, saying it's not days or weeks, but it's also not years either.

Whitney Houston's daughter giving her first interview since her mother's death a month ago. Nineteen-year-old Bobbi Kristina Brown sat down with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah also talked with other members of Whitney's family, including the troubled singer's sister-in-law.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Did you think that drugs would end up taking her? Did you think that?

PATRICIA HOUSTON, WHITNEY HOUSTON'S SISTER-IN-LAW: The handwriting was kind of on the wall. I would be kidding myself to say otherwise.


DIAZ: That's Whitney's sister-in-law. The interviews will begin broadcasting Sunday on Oprah's OWN Network.

Of course, we all have our favorite TV shows. But which show is the most influential in the history of television? Survey says, "Hill Street Blues." You know that music.

"Hill Street Blues," aired on NBC for six seasons, from 1981 to 1987. A survey of TV critics cited the police drama's large diverse cast and said it paved the way for more complex network shows.

Also in the top five, "I Love Lucy" was tied with "The Sopranos," because they have so much in common. And we also have at number four, "The Tonight Show," and "Survivor."

Soledad, regrettably "Jersey Shore" not on that list. I want to know, can you guys actually sing the theme song to "Three's Company?" That's my challenge.

O'BRIEN: Ali can.



VELSHI: You said theme song. These are hummable theme songs.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's what sticks.

All right. Carlos, thanks for that. "Hill Street Blues?"


O'BRIEN: I liked it, I'm surprised, number one.

All right. We're talking about this story that actually covered a lot, the Mississippi pardon situation, outrage again, anew, if you will, about the Supreme Court now ruling that upholds those pardons for 200 convicts who were granted pardons by the former governor, Haley Barbour, as he was making his way out of office there. The decision read in part this, pardons may not be set aside or voided by the judicial branch.

Governor Barbour said in his statement this, "The Supreme Court has reaffirmed more than a century of settled law in our state."

One man freed by the decision is a guy named David Gatlin. You might remember we talked a lot about him. He shot and killed his estranged wife. Name was Tammy. He also shot Tammy's friend, Randy Walker. He shot him in the head. Randy walker survived.

Gatlin pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years but ended up, because of the pardon, only serving 17-and-a- halfyears.

Randy Walker joins us this morning.

Mr. Walker, thank for being with us. It's nice to talk to you again. I know we talked when the story first broke. So, what's your reaction now that the Supreme Court of the state has weighed in?

RANDY WALKER, SHOT BY DAVID GAITLIN: Well, the Supreme Court weighed in and they've weighed in on the wrong side of the issue. I think they did what was politically easy for them rather than what was right for the people of Mississippi.

O'BRIEN: Did the governor ever reach out to you? Did the court ever reach out to you to sort of have a conversation to see how you felt by someone who had been shot in the head by one of these guys?

WALKER: No. The court never reached out to us and Haley Barbour has never reached out to us. We continue to ask for a meeting with him, you know, just to sit down for a few minutes and just have -- we just have some questions. We feel like we're due some answers.

We would love to do that. If he's ever inclined to do that, we would be very interested to sit down with him.

O'BRIEN: It seems at this point that it's unlikely. What do you make of David Gatlin now? I mean, are you concerned? He tried to kill you. Are you worried for your life? Do you think he's still a threat to you?

WALKER: I think once somebody tries to kill you and they don't succeed, he's always a threat -- he or she is always a threat. I've been advised that if I see David in any of my immediate area, whatever, that it would -- I should probably take that as a threat because he stalked us in the beginning when he did the shooting and tried to kill me, and that's the way I'll take it if I see him again. I'll take it as an immediate threat on my life and I'll act accordingly.

O'BRIEN: What does that mean exactly, act accordingly?

WALKER: Well, I've been advised not to go into it in too much detail, but he would know what it means.

O'BRIEN: Meaning that you would -- you would -- are you threatening him? OK.


O'BRIEN: Just the sight of him.

WALKER: I would never threaten him, I would just be -- I would take that as a threat on my life and I would defend myself.


All right. Well, Randy Walker, we appreciate you talking with us.

Randy, obviously, has been talking to us a lot ever since the story broke. He's one of many families disappointed by not only by the governor of the state of Mississippi, but also the Supreme Court decision now.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're just minutes away from that big job report numbers we're expecting out. We're going to talk to President Obama former chief economist, Austan Goolsbee, about what those numbers mean not only for the president's reelection chances, but what it really means to the whole GOP field as well.

And then the fastest growing drug problem in this country is prescription drug abuse. More people are hooked on painkillers, they say, than on heroin and cocaine combined. We're going to talk to Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack who's trying to change all of that. She's going to join us live, straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to the CNN grill at South by Southwest. This is journey, "Don't Stop Believing," Steve Perry. That's Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.

She's cool. Every single one of her songs, she's been on before. She's hitting it out of the ballpark for us. She can come back any time she wants. She's got good music.

Seven million Americans abused prescription drugs, we're told, in 2009. That's according to one survey. It's more, they say, than the number of people who use cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens and inhalants combined. They held a hearing last week.

Congresswoman Mack of California was at those hearings or part of those hearings. She joins us now.

It's nice to see you. We love having you back, of course. Last time you and I spoke, it was before you had gone before these hearings and now you've had a chance to bring in industry and government and have those hearings last week. How do you think it went?

REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, thank you for having me back, Soledad.

I think the hearing went very well. I think, first and foremost, we're getting more and more members of Congress to focus on this attention -- I mean, focus attention on this problem. I testified with members from West Virginia, and Kentucky, Massachusetts and before -- you know, other members from Wisconsin.

A lot of members are really recognizing this is an epidemic within their communities. They're starting to recognize that we need to do something, whether it's refocus the attention of the DEA and ask questions of the FDA. There's a lot of acronyms, I know.

But bottom line is more and more members are starting to recognize this is a very tragic epidemic. It's an American tragedy.

O'BRIEN: So there are two pieces of legislation that I want to focus on. The one is to educate both people who are doctors and prescribers of drugs. The other would limit access specifically to OxyContin. How much do you think something like OxyContin is overprescribed?

BONO MACK: Oh, that's a great question. First of all, not only OxyContin, but all sorts of pills right now are overprescribed. The DEA last year had three take back days -- national take back days of drugs where they took back 995,000 pounds of pills -- 995,000 pounds. That's a lot of pills.

So not only OxyContin is overprescribed but I think al sorts of medications are overprescribed. It's taking a toll on health insurance premiums, it's taking a toll on the public health, it's taking a toll on the overall budget because a lot of this money is coming out of Medicare and Medicaid as well.

OxyContin's one example. To me, it is probably the most -- you know, the worst of all of these narcotic drugs. Very high rate of addiction after, you know, just a few uses of OxyContin.

O'BRIEN: And a very high rate, I think, of stigma, too. You and I have spoken in the past. You had a son who had drug problems, a first husband who had drug problems. You talk about your mom who had drinking problems.

How much is the issue of sort of shame and embarrassment among family members complicate all of this?

BONO MACK: Well, you know, over the years I think with the help of people like Betty Ford, I think the stigma has certainly lessened, but there's no doubt that still people are ashamed or they don't recognize that addiction truly is a disease and we should focus on prevention and recovery as well as keeping these pills out of the hands of people who don't need them.

But the stigma does still exist. You know, I think it's important that we shift our thinking that this is not a moral failing. It truly is a disease. And if people need help, they should be willing to say, you know, it's time for me to ask for help and be proud to stand up and go in and get the help that they need.

O'BRIEN: Farai?

CHIDEYA: One of the things that I've certainly been tracking is basically how different state regulations treat pain mills, where people can go in with almost no justification and, you know, get pills. So how does your bill address the pain mill phenomenon?

BONO MACK: Well, much of the work for the pill mills is being done by state attorneys general. I have to applaud a lot of them. Certainly in Florida, Pam Bondi has been an absolute champion of this. But in California, the DEA and others just arrested a doctor allegedly for prescribing just so many of these narcotics to people way over and above what an ordinary physician's office would prescribe.

She's being charged for three counts of murder for contributing -- potentially contributing to the death of three different young men. You know, in this case I've written a letter to the district attorney encouraging him to throw the book at this doctor if, in fact, they can find out she's guilty.

The American people -- the American public needs to right now stand up and say if these bad doctors, not the good doctors, but if these bad doctors are contributing to these overdose deaths, they need to go to jail. So, I've written a letter to the district attorney saying, we're behind you. Throw the book at this doctor if she, in fact, helped kill these people.

VELSHI: What's the -- how do you break down the difference between the bad doctors and the bad patients, the ones who know how to game the system? Because if you work outside the insurance system, it's really not that hard to go to different doctors, get prescriptions and get them filled.

BONO MACK: Well, first of al you start raising the awareness of this problem. The state medical boards are starting to look more and more carefully at this. But it's very simple. How many of these doctors are truly doing assessments of the actual physical needs, physical health of these patients or are they simply walking in, complaining of this doctor in Los Angeles, a patient walked in and said he had a sore wrist and she wrote him a prescription for OxyContin.

So there are clearly ways of doing this, but another way, and this is very insidious, a number of parents have told me that they confronted this doctor to her face and said to her, "My child is addicted to these drugs. Please stop prescribing them for my child." And she looked them in the face and said, "That's not my problem."

I mean, that's a pretty good sign that this is a bad doctor.

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack joining us this morning. We'll obviously keep talking to you about this issue which I know is very near and dear to your heart and anything else you want to join us to talk about. We appreciate your time. Thank you.

BONO MACK: I promise I'll bring good songs.

O'BRIEN: Oh, you do. You've done it.

VELSHI: She does.

O'BRIEN: You might be the best so far today. You win the award for that.

All right. Still ahead -- still ahead, although I should tell her it's a low bar today for some of us. Ahead, we're going to talk a little bit about the Keystone pipeline issue. Dead on arrival as Democrats send a message to the president about the vote.

Also, we'll talk to Deepak and Gotham Chopra, a son looking at his famous father in a brand new documentary. And we leave you with Mimi Swartz's first selection, Los Lobos, "Ya Se Va."


O'BRIEN: I haven't heard Thomas Dolby in a really long time.

CHIDEYA: He's playing Friday here at South by Southwest. This is old stuff.

O'BRIEN: You can see our entire play list, I should mention, every morning on our Web site which is I think my blog is up already. We also did a blog, video blog, I'm working, working, working.

Please, take a look at it at point.

We're going to talk this morning about a documentary that is going to be launched here at South by Southwest. Obviously, Deepak Chopra is known as a spiritual guru. But he is in a new documentary made by his son, Gotham. And it paints a much more intimate picture of a man everybody knows but doesn't really know. Take a look.


GOTHAM CHOPRA, DIRECTOR, "DECODING DEEPAK" (voice-over): My whole life, people have asked me what it's like to be the son of that spiritual guy, Deepak Chopra. There's a simple answer: strange.

DEEPAK CHOPRA, SPIRITUAL GURU: In Gotham, I haven't noticed it since I was 14 years of age.

G. CHOPRA: See, there's this odd pop cultural icon he's become.


D. CHOPRA: Dr. Chopra.

G. CHOPRA: Then there's the truth or my version of it, who my dad really is.


O'BRIEN: The film is called "Decoding Deepak," and it's going to premiere on Sunday at the South by Southwest Film Festival.

Dr. Deepak Chopra joins us. And Gotham Chopra is with us as well.

Gentlemen, it's nice to see both of you.

Gotham, since you're the filmmaker, I'm going to start with you if I can. Is this film about your dad or is it really about you kind of seen through the prism of exploring about your dad?

G. CHOPRA: Sure. That's a good question because I set out to make a movie about my father but I quickly discovered that it was about me. I think any film is somewhat about the filmmaker.

Ultimately though, I kind of felt in looking at my dad and understanding how he affected me, frankly, how he's affected millions of people, that a lot of the film is about what people see in him, what his audience see in him, and what his audience is searching for.

O'BRIEN: Deepak, I know this is not the first time someone had pitched to you, hey, let's do a documentary about you and your life. Why did you agree? What did you think you would get out of this and why say yes to your son? Is it just because he was your son?

D. CHOPRA: I think it's natural to say yes for your son. My initial reaction was that, oh, my God, he's trying to exploit commercially his father's fame, if you will, do that. So, I let him do it, let him follow me for a year or so, and then I realized that it was fun to have him around with me. I didn't know what the film was going to turn out to be.

There are parts of it that make me really uncomfortable, but then that's life, you know? This film is more than a film about Gotham or me. It's a film about father/son relationships in general.

O'BRIEN: What parts make you uncomfortable that's a film about friendship in general?

D. CHOPRA: Well, because, you know, the public persona is never the real person. Society creates images of people and ultimately those images don't conform to the actual reality and when those images are defile here and there, then people get enraged and upset.

I think it's a very honest film and it's in the end, a spiritual film because spirituality is about being human and being human means having contradictions, paradox, ambiguity, all of that.

VELSHI: Gotham, it's Ali Velshi here. That strikes me as very interesting because the world thinks it knows Deepak Chopra. We see him a lot. He seems so open. I almost feel there's something I don't know about him.

So what's the thing to compel people to see this film? What is it we're going to find out about him, you, your relationship and his spirituality that we don't really know?

D. CHOPRA: I think you realize that even I don't know myself in all aspects.

G. CHOPRA: Well, I'm very used to --


O'BRIEN: Go ahead, Gotham.

G. CHOPRA: Yes. No, I think, you know, it's an interesting question. I mean, ultimately that, yes, people are full of contradiction, even those people that we, you know, qualify as spiritual, they're human and they are vulnerable.

And, you know, my father, I think I set out to see one thing and probably thought I knew certain things about him that the world didn't know and I was not going to expose them as much as reveal them, but I discovered even, you know, to me there are parts of my father that I don't fully understand or reconcile and that's part of being human. That's part of the journey.

When he calls it spiritual, I suppose, you know, that's kind of where this film really goes. It really looks at people and discovers that people like my father are reflections, they're mirrors. In them you see what you want to see. Certainly that was an experience for me as well.

O'BRIEN: Deepak Chopra and Gotham Chopra joining us this morning. The film is going to debut -- I'm having a hard time speaking. It's Friday and the show's almost done. The film will debut is what I'm trying to say on Sunday right here at South by Southwest.

It's nice to see you both, even if it's from a distance. Thanks for talking with me about your film. I look forward to seeing the whole thing.

D. CHOPRA: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning -- you bet -- on STARTING POINT, we're just minutes away from that critical job report that we've been telling you about all morning.

Christine Romans is going to join us to break down some of those numbers and we'll get reaction from President Obama's former chief economist, Austan Goolsbee, he's going to join us as well.

We leave you with Carlos Diaz's play list. Falco, "Rock Me, Amadeus." Speaking of things we haven't heard in a really while. We're going way back.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Some big breaking news to get to. We've been telling you the jobs numbers are coming out, and they are now out. It's better than expected. Let's get right to Christine Romans for an update. Hey, Christine, good morning, again.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad. It's a good report -- 8.3 percent is the unemployment rate, but the number of jobs created was better than expected. It was 227,000 in the month. If you look here how it works out -- if you look at how it works out, it means you had December, January, and February all better than these bars show here. You had 227,000, you had December and January also upgraded, if you will, another 20,000 in December, another 40,000 jobs created than we thought in January. So the trend has been a little bit stronger here, and so it shows you some recent momentum overall in the jobs picture.

It was in business and professional services, it was in leisure and hospitality, mining, manufacturing, temporary help, computer systems designers, technical consultants, if you will. You do see some job loss in retail, which is sort of interesting.

I want to look in the longer trend then what that means for us. What it means is that these numbers are a little bit better here than we thought. There you go. And this is the end, July, 2008. So, actually, not very far from where we are right now in the last election cycle. All these jobs lost coming back here. Tough summer, another slow summer, and now you've seen a steady improvement in the number of jobs created. And 8.3 percent is the unemployment rate, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you very much for that. Let's talk to our panel about some of these numbers. Obviously it's not just the numbers. People are looking for the political implications, clearly.

MIMI SWARTZ, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "TEXAS MONTHLY": Well, the political implications look really good for the president. My question is how much can the president really affect the jobs?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There's an economic cycle and public policy. Public policy influences confidence immediately. The only thing the president can do is make people say, hey, this is getting better. I will spend. I'm not likely to lose my job. That's the part that the president can influence.

He did take over at the low point in this economy, and that chart shows that. So he can take credit for it if he's getting blamed for it, which is what a lot of the Republican candidates were doing. They said he caused a lot of job losses. Stimulus did nothing. He gets to hand this back to them and say, really?

O'BRIEN: Austan Goolsbee is the president's former chief economist, and he joins us to talk about the numbers and what it's going to mean for the president's politics. That will come up in just a minute.

Let's get back to Christine for one second. Christine, you and I have long talked about numbers and then we take it the next step to talk about implications. When you see the jobs report going up and the gas prices going down and up, sort of opposite factors there, the gas price is bad for the president, job numbers even better than expected, so very good news for him, certainly.

ROMANS: It is. But what you'll see is people saying, look, what about the underemployment rate? What about all the people that want to be working full time and aren't? What about people that are not working at their ability or their wages that they had in 2005?

So as you guys well know, there are a lot of different ways to slice all of these numbers. And you have to get into them sort of pretty deeply. And they're different for a lot of people. When I go on and say there's 8.3 percent unemployment in this country, I get a lot of feedback from those people who say, it doesn't feel like that to me. And 8.3 doesn't feel good to me either. It depends who you are. When you look at underemployment of African-Americans, it's about a quarter of African-Americans are underemployed, statistically underemployed. It's more around eight percent. I'm giving you last month's numbers. Why are there so many disparities, and what kind of conversation are we having in the public arena about that, about jobs for everyone and not fighting politically about who's responsible for losing those jobs?

O'BRIEN: Farai?

CHIDEYA: I think that there are some really interesting trends that have to do with voter satisfaction versus employment. African- Americans are the most heavily unemployed and underemployed group in America but still have the vastly highest approval rating for the president. The president's approval ratings have gone up. So there's a lot of different reasons that people parse out politics and jobs.

But I think another thing we should think about is on this punishing sort of great recession, a lot of people have spent down their savings. More people than ever are living paycheck to paycheck, and a lot of these jobs may be not as stable as the ones that they had before. So we may also still continue to see a lot of trends with credit card debt, people overleveraging.

O'BRIEN: Like a lagging indicator.


SWARTZ: And what happens if gas prices go up at the pump? Then you have people who are underemployed trying to get to work and can't afford it. O'BRIEN: It's not completely inconceivable when you look at your next big jobs report number that those numbers could switch and then all of a sudden the narrative changes.

VELSHI: You're really right about that. The people looking for work, the people in the south who drive disproportionately further than we do in the northeast where we use public transportation, this gas price thing is scary.

O'BRIEN: We're going to continue to talk about that with our panel and Christine romans who's back in New York breaking down the numbers for us. As I mentioned, Austan Goolsbee, who was the president's former chief economist, is going to join us and talk about some numbers and what it means in the political arena as well.

And then putting a face to -- and the age on the labor market. We'll discuss that. Christine will come back to break down some of these numbers. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment as we come to you from South by Southwest.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We've been talking about the latest job numbers that are now out. Employers added 227,000 jobs. The unemployment rate stays steady at 8.3 percent. That jobs number is slightly higher than what people were predicting. I think it was most economists saying 202,000.

VELSHI: In the low 200,000s.

O'BRIEN: CNN Money was predicting a little bit higher.

VELSHI: And it's all private sector jobs. So we're not in the business where we're creating more government jobs. We're not in the business of losing a lot of government jobs right now. We seem to have leveled out at this spot. These are the private sector, so that's exactly what we want. It's a strong report.

We are on track at this point. We talked earlier to a reporter who said we need many more jobs per month to get down to where we were before the recession, but we're on track to eliminating some of those job losses, and it feels good.

O'BRIEN: That was called the threshold, right, which is when you calculate sort of all the other losses that increasing by 200 some odd thousand jobs.

VELSHI: And population growth, including the fact that people still coming to this country, which we need them to do.

O'BRIEN: And some people haven't regained the same job they have gotten. They might be working but not at the same level for the same amount of money.

SWARTZ: I think in Texas in particular there's not an unemployment problem as much as there's an education problem where a lot of highly skilled jobs are going begging.

VELSHI: Correct. That's what we're seeing here. If you graduate with a degree in petroleum engineering, you can come out and earn over $95,000 a year when you graduate. Around in Austin every company is looking for software developers. Starting salary is $40,000, but you can earn $150,000 with experience.

O'BRIEN: We have Austan Goolsbee. He's the former chairman of the president's council of economic advisors. It's nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us. You heard the number we have been talking about, 227,000, 8.3 percent. What do you make of these numbers? The unemployment rate itself stays unchanged.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIR, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Well, the number is pretty solid, I think. The expectations were good and this came in even a little above that.

I think you see what we've been wondering when it would happen for a while that as the job market improves some people who were out of the labor force come in there, and that's why even though there was strong job creation, the unemployment rate didn't go down.

I think the one thing to highlight that's fairly interesting is that there are two surveys. One is of people, and that's where you get the unemployment rate, and the other is of businesses that are established, and that's where you get the job number. The job creation from the people survey was actually much stronger even than the jobs from the business survey. And that's usually a sign that the small business and new enterprise formation is kicking back up. And that's a thing that until the last couple of months has been really, really bad in this recession. So that's a good sign.

O'BRIEN: So we were talking about the threshold, and earlier this morning we had a guest who said the threshold is 300,000 to 400,000. That's the number you need to be hitting to make those numbers really change and really be meaningful. Do you think that's true?

GOOLSBEE: That seems pretty extreme to me. I mean, 300,000, 400,000 jobs numbers would be epically big numbers. I think if you keep adding 200,000 jobs a month, there will be these -- some people coming into the labor force and not. But if you do that on a sustained basis, you will bring down the unemployment rate quite significantly.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about what the implications are and we'll start with President Obama. When you look at his approval rating, when they ask the question do you generally approve or disapprove of the job he's doing handling the economy. His approval number is below 50 percent; it's 45 percent. The disapproval number is at 51 percent. I guess the good news in all of that is just -- it's going the right direction for him, that number was at 57 percent; now the disapproval is at 51 percent. What do you read into these numbers, sir?

GOOLSBEE: You know as everyone knows, that's pretty highly tied to how people feel the economy is doing. So as the economy's improved the last three or four months, you've seen -- you've seen his -- his numbers getting better.

I do think people have perhaps gotten a little out ahead of themselves on the -- on the recovery. There's still a lot of things in it out in the world that make the recovery a little tenuous and the growth rate could slow down and the job market could, if not get worse, it could just stop getting better fast enough.

So I -- I think they probably got to keep an eye on that and be concerned about it.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you one quick final question about the jobs bill? The jobs bill passed. It was bipartisan. We heard Eric Cantor sort of trumpeting that it was bipartisan and it's meaningful. Then you heard Nancy Pelosi saying you know it's teeny tiny. And it sounded like she was sort of saying it's meaningless. And Eric Cantor came back and said it's not.

Where do you stand on it, is it a big deal this jobs bill or is it not a big deal?

GOOLSBEE: Well, I think it's a big deal if you can get people to start working together in Washington. That's -- that's been one of our -- on the government policy side, that's been one of our biggest problems. So as a sign of what we need to do, I think it's good.

I think in reality the main thing that's got to drive the recovery is going to be the private sector. So the government has a role, but if you just look at the jobs numbers, you know, the government's been shrinking in job creation and -- and more than 100 percent of the job creations' coming from the private sector. And that's -- that's what's got to be the driver.

O'BRIEN: Austan Goolsbee is professor of economics at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. And also the head of the president's economic panel. Nice to see you, sir thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

We're going to come back in just a moment and talk more specifically about who's working and who's not working and just how fragile is this economic recovery.

Christine Romans is going to come back and join us to talk about that.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take it away from us, Lord. Take it Lord.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): As the fierce storms tore through the Midwest and South last weekend taking 40 lives, emergency recovery teams scrambled to respond to devastated communities across ten states. Among the relief workers heading into the destruction zone was CNN Hero Tad Agoglia and his First Response Team of America.

TAD AGOGLIA, CNN HERO: Let's go ahead and get this debris cleared enough so we can get the grapple claw in here.

We got here just a few hours after the tornado struck this community. We've cleared the road. We've provided the light towers. We powered up the grocery store. We powered up the gas station to provide the essentials that this community needs.

MARCIANO: Since 2007 Agoglia's team has crisscrossed the country providing recovery assistance to thousands of people at 40 disaster sites for free. This week they've worked tirelessly for days restoring services and clearing tons of debris.

AGOGLIA: See if you can grab the claw, actually cut the roof right in half

It's very hard for traditional equipment without the claws to actually grab this debris. That's why you need specialty equipment like this.

MARCIANO: So what do you do with it?

AGOGLIA: We remove it from the community. But time is of the essence. There's a lot of people that want to get back in here. They're looking for anything they can salvage.

MARCIANO: Why do you do this? Why did you choose this road?

AGOGLIA: When I'm watching these super cells go right over these small communities, I want to be there to help.

MARCIANO: We'll let you get to work. You do good stuff.

AGOGLIA: Thank you.

MARCIANO: Thanks Tad.


O'BRIEN: And welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT this morning.

And we're getting right to this critical February jobs report that is just out. The big number to remember is 227,000 jobs added. Unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.3 percent. We want to dig a little deeper on these specific numbers.

So let's get right to Christine Romans who's breaking them down to us. Good morning to you Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning.

Watching your money this morning because of course your paycheck is where the money comes from to pay the bills. And everyone wants to see more paychecks in America.

We know, Soledad, any one of our kids could probably have drawn this in a little bit better so I apologize. But this is the last three months. You can see that the numbers are better than expected. You see well over 200,000 jobs created the last -- each of the last three months and you see a trend for this year that is a year that is in the black. Some trouble in the summer, but a year that's in the black.

Who's working and who's not working? You're working if you're in professional and business services -- we're adding jobs there; in mining; in leisure and hospitality. We've lost some retail jobs and we lost some general merchandise type jobs.

We also saw earnings rise a little bit. That's going to be important. We want to see paychecks tick up because quite frankly, Soledad, many of the jobs we've added over the past year have been for lower pay than the jobs we've lost over the past three or four years. So that's going to be important to watch.

And I want to break out race very quickly. The -- statistically the unemployment rates were basically unchanged for most of the races but when you look within race as a demographic, Soledad, there are some really big disparities. The unemployment rate for adult men, 7.7 percent; adult women, also 7.7 percent; whites, about 7.3 percent; blacks, 14 -- I mean, double a 2:1 ratio; Hispanics, 10.7 percent. And if you look at teens, it's still about 24 percent for the unemployment rate for teens.

So those are some -- I'm just digging into some of the numbers of who's working and who's not as we're watching your money this morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes and some of those numbers are very dire especially for the numbers for teenagers. All right, Christine, thank you for the update. We appreciate it.

We've got to take a short break. We come back in just a moment. We're going to be talking "End Point" with our panelists. What's the big take away for the day?

Stay with us we're back in just a moment.



O'BRIEN: Ali Velshi has left our panel but we're listening to Gene Autry's "Deep in the Heart of Texas". Ali's getting ready for his show (INAUDIBLE) but we've asked Alexis to come back because we're going to do our "End Point". We're going to let you start. "End Point" this morning is?

ALEXIS OHANIAN, DONORSCHOOSE.ORG: Thank you. Well, the "End Point" is we're here at South by Southwest with a bunch of geeks trying to make the world suck less. And so I want everyone to go to, invest in the future geeks of America by using my coupon code Breadpig because I'm matching $10,000 worth of donations until the money runs out. So go help make more nerds.

O'BRIEN: All right. We like that "End Point". Ok.

UF1: I've done that. I just want to say.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to do it when we get off the air. What do you have for your "End Point" this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'm very concerned about the recovery and how stable it is. I think being a Texan I'm looking at gas prices wondering what energy costs are going to be for the summer. Last summer was brutal. And if this summer is the same, I think, I'm concerned.

O'BRIEN: That's interesting.

All right. Farai Chideya, I'm going to give you the final word this morning. No pressure.

FARAI CHIDEYA, JOURNALIST, RADIO HOST: Yes. Well, no. When I look at the job numbers, I think that we have to look beyond the numbers into people's hearts because a lot of people are discouraged at this point. When I talk to people out in the field, there is a loss of hope that has to be rekindled. And people may not have the same earnings potential they had in the past but we just have to forge ahead no matter what.

O'BRIEN: Those numbers aren't really accurate reflections of how people feel and how they're actually literally doing.

A big thank you to our panelists; nice having you on this Friday.

OHANIAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now and I'll see everybody back here -- on TV, not here in South by Southwest. I'll see you back on Monday morning from New York. Have a great weekend.

Hey Carol, good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, go have fun now Soledad, you deserve it.